Before diving into Part Two of my deconversion story, let me preface this post with a little information about teenage-and-early-twenty-something me: I was a goody-two-shoes. I was that girl you hated in high school or maybe college. The one who lectured you on why it was wrong to get drunk, why you were bad for trying pot, why you’d regret for the rest of your life the fact that you’d *gasp* had sex with your boyfriend before marriage.
I was shy and socially awkward, sheltered and naïve. Leaving my parents’ homes to go to college was more culture shock than I’d expected. I’d never been on a single date in high school, so I was laughably unprepared for my first “relationship” in college. I had a circle of friends, but they were understandably put off by my preachy nature.
So, for much of the time period covered in this post, I felt isolated and depressed. Just a little forewarning for what’s ahead.
Before Deconversion: Confirmation
My Lutheran confirmation present was a thin silver cross mounted on a rectangular wooden plaque, presented along with a King James Bible. Since I was a “real” member of the church now, I decided it was time to actually read the whole Bible instead of just the parts I’d been assigned during confirmation.
I was an avid reader through my entire childhood, and it never occurred to me that I could just skim or even skip over whole sections of the Bible. When I hit the begats, I tried to read every word. My eyes glazed over. I slipped into a boredom coma. I closed my Bible, set it aside, and never opened it again.
The next time I resolved to read the Bible all the way through was in my early twenties. I was in a deep depression: the worst I’ve experienced, before or since. Desperate and near-suicidal, I turned to the book that seemed to bring other people such warm comfort.
It left me cold.
I’d been taught that God was all-good, all-knowing, and all-loving. But I didn’t see much of that in his actions. The more I read, the less comfort I felt.
Well, maybe I need to skip ahead to the New Testament, I thought, having gotten over my childish must-read-every-word phase. So I did, and Jesus’ words – for the most part – were kinder than anything in the Old Testament.
But I still didn’t feel any big epiphany; nice words spoken by some guy who lived thousands of years ago did nothing to lift me out of my depression.
A coworker, who’d been trying to get me to go to her church for awhile, said, “You can’t just read the words – you have to invite Jesus into your heart.” She gave me a version of what I now know to be the Sinner’s Prayer, and said I really needed to believe and invite Jesus into my life.
I don’t remember exactly what the prayer was, but it had something to do with apologizing for being such an awful sinner and thanking God for forgiving me through Jesus.
Quick aside here: Do you know how damaging it can be to tell a clinically depressed person that they’re an evil sinner unworthy of redemption? It makes the part where Jesus sacrificed himself to give you that redemption even worse – here’s this perfect guy sacrificing himself for worthless, dirty, sinning me.
Never mind that I was, in general, a good person. I was kind. I was generous (as much as it was possible to be at that time of my life). I didn’t smoke, I didn’t drink (still the goody-two-shoes at that time), I didn’t kick babies for fun.
But I was severely, almost fatally depressed, and that Sinner’s Prayer didn’t help matters. You can say I didn’t take it the right way, or that I didn’t understand it correctly, but that doesn’t change how it made me feel. Helpful Coworker said it with me a couple of times, then went home confident in the knowledge that she’d saved a soul for Jesus.
But I didn’t feel any different. I was still crushed under depression. That night, as I found myself seriously contemplating how I’d go about killing myself if I only had the guts, I broke down entirely. Sobbing, I recited that stupid prayer* over and over. I was open. I was receptive. I was quite literally begging God to enter my heart.
I felt nothing, that night or any other time I prayed fervently (and there were other, more sane and rational times).
I eventually climbed out of that depression without physically hurting myself. But something else had happened in the pit of that despair, and while I consider it a good thing now, it was terrifying at the time.
I’d begun doubting.
*Yes, I know that calling it a “stupid prayer” goes against the nice-gal atheist vibe I’m going for on this blog. But I also believe in honesty, and that’s genuinely how I feel about the sentiment behind that prayer – that we’re sinners from the moment we’re born, and that we have to apologize for being so awful (even if we’re generally good people). We’ll get into this more in future posts.
This is Part Two of my deconversion story.